Interview with Fizzy

November 7, 2018

Fizzy Heights

IT was a hot, balmy Sunday and Hollymount’s Saucer heaved with tension.

The Intermediate Football Championship Final of 1998 was dangling in the

balance with Mayo Gaels and Ballinrobe still slugging it out some seconds

from time.

The Gaels had hit the front and were comfortable there. Ballinrobe, for all

their perseverence and effort, could not manufacture an equaliser and the

final whistle only punctured their stubborn resolve. After a summer of

promise there was only disappointment. The winning margin was irrelevant.

Beatings are all the same.


TWO years on and Colm Jennings is con- templating a return to the County

Final. After twenty-four months of much rhyme and a little reason,

Ballinrobe have beavered their way to this stage of a competition that has

eluded them since 1979. Jennings,  a 27 year old defender, was reared on

stories of the good old days but is aware that it is now high time to start

a new era.

‘This is a huge game for Ballinrobe. I think we’ve been at a cross-roads

for ten years and we’ve never managed to bridge it. Twenty-one years is too

long a time for a club of Ballinrobe’s stature to go without a senior or

intermediate county title. When you get to 27 you know that there may not

be too many good days ahead of you. When they do come along you’ve got to

make the most out of them.’


COLM JENNINGS, or Fizzy, as he is known  among the locals, grew up just a

good kick-out from Flanagan Park, Ballinrobe. His youth was spent winning

South Mayo and county titles because he and his friends just happened to be

exceptional footballers. Fergal and Donal Costello, Tony Walkin, Hugh

Sheehan, Alan Flannery, Michéal Durcan and Fergal O’Loughlin. Some names

that still roll off the Ballinrobe team-sheet and some that do not.

The trouble was that when the same core group graduated to the adult ranks

the good times just didn’t roll. Jennings is honest in his appraisal.

‘At senior level we have underachieved,’ he says frankly. ‘If you look at

our underage structure, when I was playing underage if we didn’t get into a

county final, year after year, we’d be disappointed. Then we got to minor

grade and it just stopped. Guys had careers, moved on, moved away and it

was difficult to get a settled team together.  I’d say it was no different

though than any other team in Mayo.’

Another thing that hasn’t changed in the intervening period is the

bookmaker’s fascination with the Ballinrobe footballers. Year after year

they are rolled out as championship favourites and, in quick harmony, they

go crashing out – year after year.

A case in point was 1999 as Burrishoole, soon to go on to even greater

things, came, saw and conquered in the first round. Colm Jennings trooped

off the field suitably chastened in the aftermath. Summer hadn’t dawned and

the journey had ended prematurely.

‘Last year was very, very flat,’ he agrees. ‘It was very hard to pick

things up after losing the final the September previous. We started back

into training in January, had eight or nine weeks off, and then were

looking at the same auld slog all over.

‘We weren’t as focussed as we should have been: definitely not. We hadn’t

started too hectic in the league and I think it just steam-rolled from

there. I suppose the most damning thing from my point of view was that I

don’t think I played a league game after it.’


FOUR years spent working as an accountant with E.S.B. in Dublin has meant

that Colm Jennings now looks towards Ballinrobe G.A.A. Club with a slightly

detached perspective. Away from ‘The Lough’ on long, dark winter nights he

instead shuttles his sprints and runs his laps at the Iveagh Grounds, home

of Dublin‘s St. James’ Gaels.

He is also the first to admit that applying himself to winter training has

not always been top of his list of priorities but wake-up calls have also

doubled as turning points.

‘Commitment wise I suppose I’ve given it two good shots; the two years

we’ve reached county finals,’ he admits ironically. ‘I started last

February for the O’Mara Cup and this evening was my 35th journey down for


‘When you’re in Dublin, with the calibre of players we have this year, if

you’re not prepared to put the effort or commitment in, you’ll be found

out. To that extent, I wasn’t doing the training at the start of the year

that I should have been doing. But when you go down to the likes of

Bonniconlon and sit on the bench you don’t be long wising up to yourself.’

His appetite for the grind was also aided by the County U.21 ‘A’ success in

May. At least eight of that side are expected to start on Sunday and their

thrilling victory over Kilmaine brought a new sense of purpose to the elder

statesmen. It galvanised the club says Jennings.

‘That win was the catalyst for a lot of this. You see young fellas winning

and I think a lot of older fellas sat up and said: ‘Yeah, we’d like to be a

part of this’. Those young players are a great bunch of lads, they’ve a

great appetite for the game and they’re great trainers.

‘I think if you look at Seán Grimes, Michéal Keane, Paul Finnerty and you

compare them to the players they were two years ago, they’ve come on in

leaps and bounds. Especially with what they’ve achieved at schools and

county level as well.’


THERE is a little over a week to the County Final and Ballaghaderreen’s

shadow grows longer by the minute. Colm Jennings is sipping from a glass of

water and passing the time before yet another training session. As he does

so he recalls wins over Bonniconlon, Westport and Lahardane which were as

strange as they were welcome. Each game vastly different to the other and

now there is just one left to win.

‘When you’re in a final you’re always in with a chance,’ he says wryly.

‘With Bonniconlon and Westport we probably caught two teams that were

significantly weakened for various reasons but Lahardane were the first,

real, full strength outfit that we met. That was a funny game. I just never

felt that we were in a positon where we were going to lose it and I don’t

know why that was. But I always felt that no matter what Lahardane threw at

us, we were going to pull away at some stage. Now we didn’t play

particularly well; it was probably our worst championship performance but

we’re in the final.’

Standing in the opposite corner are Ballaghaderreen who have stolen this

far almost unnoticed. Colm Jennings smiles at the novelty of the pairing

and admits that is one that few would have expected at the turn of the

year. ‘With Mayo Gaels you had the local rivalry because they were just

four or five miles out the road and there was a huge crowd,’ he offers.

‘This time it’s Ballaghaderreen; a team that you meet once a year for a

league match, you shake hands at the end, thank them for the game and you

see them the following year. There won’t be a local edge but there won’t be

any less tension. They’re a good side and will be very hard beaten.’

After posing for photographs it is time to take our leave but, first, he

pauses to discuss the wait since the semi-final. Eight weeks of training,

talking and lingering. But it hasn’t been all dull.

 ‘When the semi-final ended you did think: ‘It’s eight more weeks, eight

more Enfields, tail-backs and mayhem.’ But we’ve had two league games and

training has been good since. And, you get e-mails from lads during the

week, everybody is keen and that’s unprecedented in this club.

‘It’s good to get a mail on a Tuesday morning telling you that there was

twenty at training last night and it took Doggy seven minutes to do a five

minute run! It’s a bit of banter and it bonds fellas even closer together.’